This is the sixteenth in a series of posts featuring speculative flash fiction in translation. Here are 25 intense short pieces by Italian sf authors that take us from the depths of human consciousness to the future of AI.
A huge thank-you to Sarah Jane Webb for translating and editing all of these wonderful pieces!
Cleide Bartolotti was born in 1940 in Domodossola, in the Alps near the Swiss border. She now lives in Modena, but still maintains a strong bond with her native region. She started writing in the Nineties, while working in Bologna. After her debut in 1999 with “Camionabile Scutari”, she produced two more novels, “Le scarpe degli altri” (2006) and “Una selva di passi” (2007). In 2012 she published the historical work “Di’ a fra Dolcin che s’armi”, on the great Italian heretic of the 13th century. Her autobiographical novel “La valigetta blu” was published by Guaraldi in 2015.
A few yards ahead, the path starts to climb towards a mountain steeped in vivid green woods and bird song. The mule track unfolds invitingly, but I resist its beckoning.
An overcast sky promises rain. A gust of wind tousles the canopy of trees, then grows in might and arrogance. Gray clouds amass, split, scatter. A thin blue edge outlines the mountain: the brushstroke of a distracted artist.
I watch that outline slowly widen, devouring the clouds as they retreat, feathering. The sky expands as the clouds unravel, assuming odd forms: small angels, golden wings outstretched; a comet with a huge tail, slowly consuming its own star.
While the mountain witnesses this miracle, I plunge into the immensity yawning overhead.
I saw her every day, on my way to the train. She stood on platform one at Bologna railway station. Who was she? I never knew.
She waited for someone the train would never bring back. With time, she’d probably forgotten who it was. She leaned against the wall in her thin threadbare coat, stained from the cappuccini slopped as she drank, with shaking hands, at the bar.
Perhaps it was some ancient grief that brought her there: grief that her memory eventually disowned, but that still drew her to this place, even though the stationmaster and the railway police kept her from taking refuge in the waiting room in colder hours.
When I asked her who she was waiting for, she glanced at me benignly, arched her eyebrows, shrugged, inclined her head slightly, but said nothing.
I no longer board that train: sometimes life takes unexpected turns. But I’ve never forgotten the old dear. Ermelinda was her name.
Milanese, and a graduate of Bocconi University, Dario Tonani is a professional journalist; he has published various novels, and around 120 of his short stories have featured in anthologies, national newspapers and in the main SF magazines in Italy. Three of his novels were published by Urania – Infect@ (2007), L’algoritmo bianco (2009) and Toxic@ (2011) – but his most famous work, parts of which have been published in Japan and in the U.S., is the Mondo9 sequence, entitled Cronache di Mondo9, out from Millemondi, volume one of the famous Mondadori publication entirely dedicated to an Italian author. A new chapter of the saga is scheduled to feature in Oscar Fantastica (Mondadori) in 2018. www.dariotonani.it
That must be it: I opened my eyes, and saved my skin. There are a lot of weirdos armed to the teeth prowling around dreams. Before you know it, they riddle you with bullet holes while you’re asleep in your bed. They say it’s all because of X-caliber, a new bullet capable of ripping through dreamland and striking a target in reality – I mean someone asleep, not awake.
Last night, leaping from roof to roof during a chase, I fired a whole clip. I saw torsos jolt and heads explode, shot after shot. And bloody stains bloom on immaculate pillow-cases. It was my turn tonight, sure as hell. But something needled me. I woke up, eyes peeled open. The bullet must be around here somewhere, among the rumpled sheets.
I found the notes in an old bottle I’d picked up on the shore at sundown. The glass was opaque, and the eroded cork like dead seaweed, as if it had been in the sea for ages. I turned it in my hand, feeling its weight; observed it against the light. No message, just an inch of gray sand on the bottom. I shook it. The notes were there, in the timeless slush.
I opened the bottle with my teeth and spat out the cork. The music struggling up its neck reached my ears with a barely-perceptible sense of harmony. I ground my teeth instinctively, held the bottle further away and tilted it by a few degrees. The music acquired melody and rhythm. So much so that I ventured to hold it horizontally: the notes grew fresh, crystal-clear. I risked pouring out its content. The music became poignant. Perfect. Then stopped abruptly.
On my bare feet, a blob of gray mud. I picked it up and crumbled it in my fingers. Nothing. I shook the bottle. Empty! I lifted it to my ear. Silence…
With a degree in Life Sciences, Franci Conforti is a professional journalist and an academic. She won the 2016 Odissea Award with “Ghosts and Other Victims of my Cousin Matilda”, the 2017 Kipple Award with “Carnivores”, and was a finalist for the Urania Award in 2016 with “Stormachine”.
Cosmos-Quantum Collimator ∞
The CC∞ was the greatest info-bio-machine ever built by humanity. It cost a fortune. Several miles long, it rotated slowly, following the earth around the sun. Its shape was that of a gigantic metal butterfly, or of a sleeping eight. The purpose of the CC∞ was to make sense of the entire universe, so infinitely large and small.
On earth, in front of the enormous control monitor, Professor Ardel illustrated the salient points of the research to the umpteenth group of students: “ …as you can see, the section on the right simulates the expansion of galaxies and cosmic radiations from the Big Bang, through non-time, to a…”
“And the other wing?” someone asked.
“Oh… in the other wing we impart a torque on the elements of periodic tables, dropping well below quantum plasma and…”
“What’s that dot? “
“Which dot?” replied Ardel, looking down his nose at them.
“The pale-blue one, right in the middle.”
Professor Ardel arched an eyebrow. With ample gestures of his arms, he enlarged and enlarged; enlarged again. In the collimation point of the Collimator shone the small square window of the orbiting laboratory, in which Max Malerba, the engineer on duty, kept everything under control.
Advanced Computer Science MCs for Humans
Academic Year 2026-2027
Check the box with the correct answer, following the Read, Understand and Resolve procedure.
How do you switch on an Hw203 tablet?
︎ Hit the tablet repeatedly
︎ Immerse the tablet in water
︎ Press the On / Off key
Confirm your answer:
︎ Hit the tablet repeatedly
︎ Immerse the tablet in water
︎ Press the On / Off key
Please be informed that this test was calibrated according to standard algorithms defining current Homo sapiens capability.
In Our Image and Likeness
Planet Earth, a certain number of cycles after Humanity. F-B34 and M-B34 are two androids: she, of satin-finish peach color plastic; he, of air force blue plastic.
“Are you sure this is how they did it?” asked M, while F helped him put his legs in the holes of an odd-looking garment of black lace.
“Yes, but keep still: I’ve nearly finished,” answered she, smearing his lips with lipstick. They lay on the bed. F removed M’s panties. He laughed: it was too silly, he had only just put them on. His laughter was a good sign, thought F, climbing on top of him and wriggling onto his waste apparatus until they locked. Trying to be nice, he helped her by arching his back and releasing a drop of warm fluidizer.
“Oh!” said she, pausing and looking blank. Then, remembering the rest, she added, “Did you enjoy it?”
He looked at her, smiling. Very softly, F prompted: “You should say, yes, very much.”
“Yes, very much,” said M.
“Me too. I love you.”
“I love you too,” he replied. Then, following the progression of the algorithm, he drew her to him and kissed her, bewhiskering her. Lipstick didn’t stay on plastic. They eyed one another, perplexed. Had they succeeded? Perhaps they had, perhaps not: it wasn’t clear.
“Um,” he said, “this operational routine probably improves with practice. How about trying again, without the lipstick?”
Laura Scaramozzino (Turin, 1976), who hosted for twelve years the cultural program “Author Dimension”, aired by Piedmont broadcaster Radio Italia Uno, has set up and held first- and second-level creative writing courses, and has published the manual “Percorso creativo. Un viaggio chiamato scrittura” on creative writing, as well as two novels. Her work featured in the collection of women’s sci-fi stories “Materia oscura”, out from Delosdigital Edizioni.
In Your Hands
They gave me permission to bring him along. No cat-carrier: it slows you down. Luckily, Inky was good. He stayed in my arms the whole time.
We marched in the dark, our eyelids heavy with sleep, with the Life Custodians swarming silently among groups of us bent over from the weight of our backpacks. We passed the ruins of the Station and walked on and on. The Alliance for Suicide is against the use of weapons: its followers would never get into a firefight with the Custodians, who protect us. If they caught us on our own, it would be the end for us kids. The Alliance captures children, gives them drugs and makes them sit in a circle, waiting to be reunited with their loved ones who perished in the Disaster.
In the small hours we reached a tenement building with a moldy-smelling entrance hall. The windows were gashes in the plum-colored concrete façade. Once inside, a Custodian peered at us, hissing: Tomorrow we’ll teach you to shoot. The future is in your hands.”
He opened the box. Gone: all that was left was the gun, and the Geiger counter connected to a lump of uranium. His hands shook. He turned cautiously towards the door leading to the garden, then chuckled, shaking his head. He had wanted to try this experiment for some time. He hated cats – as he did anyone who wouldn’t listen to him – and was fascinated by Schrödinger’s paradox. Neither dead nor alive. To find out, one had to look inside the box.
Staring astonished at the outcome of his failed experiment, he noticed on the bottom of the box a small stain that expanded into a hole as wide as an arm. A forest and a sky filled with enormous dragonflies came to life before his eyes. Enrico closed the box and thought dismissively: The devils can do anything, and survive anywhere.
Linda De Santi is a marketing analyst and a Speculative Fiction enthusiast, addicted to exploring new realities. She writes Science Fiction in her free time, and won the Urania Short Award in 2017.
The red light goes on in department 10: work has stopped. There has been an accident. The project manager leaves his holographic workstation and reaches the warehouse, traversing the departments on an electric rider. The workers keep their heads down.
Between bays 32 and 33, stocking gardening equipment, lies a man, face-down. Judging by his position, he was obviously hit while lifting his arm to take something from a shelf. Nearby, a man is sitting on the floor. His expression is tense, and he is still clutching the rod he used to deliver the blow. His colleagues surround him. Someone whispers: “Well done. These parasites do nothing but take our jobs away.”
The project manager turns around, heading for his office. He dials Emergency Services and sighs: dealing with Maintenance is becoming unpleasant. This is the third android he’s sent off to be repaired, this week.
Lorenzo Crescentini was born in Forlì and currently resides in Rome. His stories feature in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Clarkesworld, Weirdbook, and in his personal collections “Occhi senza volto” (2012), “Sogni e ombre” (2017), and “Animali” (2017). In 2016, he edited the collection “Dinosauria”.
There’s a kernel of truth in every legend. Over the centuries, a great many civilizations have spun tales of the dead returning to life, naming them one thing or another. We call them vampires: those who rise again.
Though perhaps it isn’t the dead who return to life, but someone very similar who takes their place.
They come from a hidden world, where each of us has a double. Our look-alike spends its life observing us, learning to imitate us, waiting for the right moment.
Think about it, next time you see your eyes in the mirror.
And remember: legend has it that vampires have no reflection.
Select path to archive file.
Extract to: ? [directory]
Extracting file (12%).
Extracting file (34%).
Extracting file (65%).
Not ready reading drive B
Abort, Retry, Fail?
Not ready reading drive B
Abort, Retry, Fail?
Fatal error at 0:34. Process aborted.
The man in the white coat hung his head.
“I’m very sorry, Madam.”
She closed her eyes, weeping silently.
Behind the mirror
I see him.
I see him.
Every day. He comes. He looks and doesn’t see me, he looks and I see him.
He doesn’t notice I’m here. The light goes on, I leap forward.
Crash against the edge.
Everything throbs, sways, breathes.
I lean against the glass. Look out towards his world. It’s calm. Motionless.
He too is calm. He doesn’t know.
I can smell him.
Him, the little one, the woman.
They don’t know. They don’t know.
The little one. Sometimes it touches the border. I try to catch it, but can’t.
My teeth crash against the border. I lick the glass. Where it lays its
chubby finger. Flesh flavor. I wait.
They don’t know.
The little one. Sometimes it touches the border. I try to catch it, but can’t.
My teeth crash against the border. I lick the glass. Where it lays its chubby finger. Flesh flavor. I wait.
They don’t know.
Splinters. Sharp. They chip off the confine when I hit it.
They cut. Pain. Red.
But they break off.
The glass cracks. The crack widens. Not yet.
Maico Morellini was born in 1977. In 2010 he won the Urania Award with the sci-fi novel “Il re nero”, published in 2011 by Mondadori. In 2014, for Delos Digital, he penned the sci-fi series “I Necronauti”. In May 2016 he published his second sci-fi novel, “La terza memoria”, out from Mondadori. In December 2016 he published the sci-fi anthology “Voci della Polis”, published by Vincent Book Editore. His Sci-Fi, Horror and Weird short stories have featured in numerous anthologies.
January 5, 1684, Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, England:
A breeze grazes the English morning, small splashes of light chase one another on the bark of a tree.
Reclining on the grass in its shade, a youth cogitates on the clouds racing overhead. Just then, propelled by an erratic gust of wind, a bee ends up in his hair.
Trapped, the insect reacts the only way it knows: a cry of pain, and the youth leaps to his feet.
“What’s the matter, Isaac?” calls out a voice nearby.
Without answering, the young man flees from the shade. Nature stops – and waits.
That’s when an apple drops from the tree, meeting nothing during its fall. And rolls away, unnoticed.
January 8, 2017, a Colony in Italy
A writer daydreams of outlandish worlds, in which man can fly: in which space is no longer off-limits.
Then, having signed another imaginative story, he gets to his feet, snuffs out his candle and lays down his quill, while the sound of a horse-drawn carriage fades in the distance.
Artist Naiche Andersen, of Italian-Swedish origin, lives in Varese with her husband and two cats. She has a degree in Music, which she teaches, while also pursuing her passion for writing. Having published two YA Fantasy books between 2009 and 2012, she is now working on a coming-of-age novel about the Italian Navy, as well as on a theatrical project that combines prose, music and poetry.
The Night of the Isabela
On the wind-swept bridge, the night’s humidity seeped into his bones. He drew his jacket closer, peering through his binoculars at the vast expanse of the ocean.
In the thin fog on the horizon he perceived, at first, a mere silhouette; then, squinting, he made out the figure of Neptune, brandishing his trident on the prow of an ancient galleon, gliding along majestically, all billowing sails and towering masts.
“Likely target at two o’clock: distance about three miles.”
“Sergeant, are you sure? There’s nothing on the radar.”
The lad scanned the ocean again: nothing. Had the fog conjured an illusion?
Exhausted after OOW duty, the Sergeant returned to his cabin. While removing his uniform, he accidentally knocked a book which fell, open, to the floor, showing an illustration: Galleon Isabela, sunk in December 1652 off the Azores.
The young man closed the book and placed it on his desk, a half smile stole across his face.
Nicoletta Vallorani is a professor of English Literature and a translator (from English). She has published novels for adults, combining sci-fi and crime fiction, and narrative for children. Some of her books have been translated into French and English.
They call us angels.
They imagine we exist, though they can’t be sure. A misty spot on a window, the luminous halo of a flame, footprints they don’t remember leaving … They invent names. These creatures are crazy about names. They live in darkness, yet they love the intimacy of fear and sorrow. Some consolation.
And they call us angels. Sure, we help them, but not out of love, nor for a purpose, good or bad: that’s simply the way we are.
They call us angels. They tell stories about us, some so beautiful, so compelling that you fall in love with them.
I know I shouldn’t, but I love that story: the one I heard a billion years or a second ago. So I trace my steps, find an opening, get in. The child is almost asleep when I seize him. I open his eyes and use his voice, craving for an answer.
“Please, Mummy, once more. Please. How did it go? ‘Call me Ishmael …’”
Things you do for love
You found me.
You gave me pride as a gift, and silence as a world of words, and obedience as a path to freedom. You taught me the language of emotions and drew me into the magic of real love. We became one.
We are, finally, what we were meant to be.
So, now you can do it.
Piero Schiavo Campo has a degree in physics. After five years in scientific research he moved on to software. Currently he teaches Theory and Techniques of New Media (the Internet and its media-related services) at Università degli Studi, Milano Bicocca. As a sci-fi writer he has authored various novels and short stories. Schiavo Campo has won the prestigious Urania Award twice, with the novels “L’uomo a un grado kelvin” (2013) and “Il sigillo del serpente piumato” (2017), and the Robot Award for short stories with “Rotta ai margini del tempo” (2017).
Life on Mars
A billion years ago, the air on Mars was breathable, and there were oceans, and rich, fertile soil. The planet was inhabited by highly intelligent beings, who developed according to Malthus’ Law. A few of them grew concerned.
“We should stop having children,” said one.
“Why don’t you start?” said another.
And they became extinct.
The Perfect Being
God wanted to create the perfect being. He created man, but soon realized that he wasn’t perfect. So he created the liberist, tested him at length, and concluded that he was indeed the perfect being. At this point he asked: “What shall I do with humans?” And the liberist replied: “Leave them to me.”
A Withering Story
Michael McLetter reaped success with his novel “As Cacti, So Cushions”, published by Hachwoodreed in 2020, which sold two hundred thousand copies. This was the prime example of a literary genre later referred to as Pastinuous, in which the only tense allowed was the past continuous. The famous first line of his debut work said: “I went cycling, one morning, where everyone was going (except for people rowing). My friend, Sir Humphrey Rawling, was likewise gently strolling.” The McLetter style was imitated by innumerable writers, susceptible to the expressive power of his novels. In 2027, he had a public dispute with Mel O’Drahmer, the first man of letters to make exclusive use of the writing mode known as Exclamative. McLetter had already shown signs of mental instability. Distraught over his failure to hold his own with his opponent, he went home and killed himself with a bread knife. In his suicide note, he wrote: “O’Drahmer I was accusing of English badly abusing, but while I was complaining, he just kept on exclaiming. Goodbye, cruel world – I was thinking – goodbye, though not, of course, exclaiming: no, never, not I.”
Stefano Teatini was born in Rome in 1980. He graduated in Foreign Languages and Literatures and holds a PhD in Comparative Literature. Stefano is author of essays, poetry and fiction. His novel, titled Gangkou, il cuore e l’universo, has been published in Italy by Armando Curcio Editore and is going to be illustrated and translated in English.
Orebon the Demonologist
I left my village to face the desert. Wearing a black barracan and my usual scowl, and holding my gnarled walking stick, I inwardly said farewell to my people: few, and simple enough to inspire scorn and envy. None of them know me: they fear me, keep their distance. My dealings with humanity go no further than that.
I am an adept in the Art of Doing, now journeying among the dunes, under a scorching sun at its zenith, to find the den of the Fellowship of Dusk. Desert demons are strongest at this hour, but I am not afraid. Passing near a nomad camp, yesterday, was worse: I missed what I call home. But I must keep going.
Orebon finally reached the caves he sought.
The night he faced the final ritual, he was possessed by a High Demon. Experiencing archetypal darkness, the realm where dusk is complete, he understood the equivalence between supreme self-assertion and total solitude.
My universe, my beacon, sleeps on: I’ll wait; I’d rather not disturb him. And yet…
Ooh, he’s waking up. I want to kiss him all over, I want to be cuddled and squeezed really tight! And to go out walking, unhurriedly, I hope: the sun’s out today.
But then he always has to leave. So many sad goodbyes.
Silence: I wait. He could be back any moment. Time doesn’t exist.
There’s someone on the landing: it must be him. That beep: the door opening. I’m bursting with excitement. What shall I do? I need a hug!
Ah, feeling calm and contented, at last. I like watching him when he’s busy. What is he drawing from that box he brought home today?
Two crash helmets. He dons the largest, puts the smaller one on me.
“Pat: you’ve no idea how much I love you. Now we can…”
There’s a voice in my head; but words don’t matter. I’m wagging my tail again.
Born and raised in a small town in northern Italy, Carlo Vicenzi loves to translate, create and work with stories in general. He firmly believes that if he stops writing his head will explode – and that no-one wants to clean up the mess.
Yesterday I turned 213 and today, after ages, I felt a stab of fear in my stomach.
Tomorrow, the doctors will replace my left eye, the only remaining part of my former body.
It’s common practice to substitute aging organs with neutral replacements, grown in vitro. Over the years, my fear of aging, senility and death has faded more and more.
Now, the whiteness of the operating room makes me feel protected: I know that, when I wake up, a new and perfect spare will have supplanted a part of my decaying flesh.
These days, quite a few reach the age of 200. But do they really? What if, having had the last part of me replaced, I were no longer… myself?
Would I realize, or would everything I once was be thrown into the recycling bin?
I stare at the milky iris reflected in the window, wondering who will awake in this bed tomorrow.
Valeria Barbera lives in Naples with her 15 years old black cat Nerino. She wrote several speculative fiction stories, published in prestigious Italian magazines, and also a cyber fantasy novel, “Eroe in prova”, about the human mind.
“Mom, I don’t want to go to school today.”
“We have a Coexistence lesson. I get so bored reading those stories!”
“Don’t say that: you’re lucky. In your grandparents’ days, they studied things like struggles, invasions, wars. They said this prepared children for real life, but they grew into angry adults.”
“Oh… OK, mom, you’ve convinced me. See you this evening!”
As she watched her daughter board the school airbus, Lora thought back to the day the Prox had come to Earth in peace, and people had started shooting.
Fear of the Other had helped humanity survive in past centuries, but had also isolated it from the rest of the galaxy.
Then, the solution: read sci-fi stories in schools.
Other worlds and universes. Other forms of life.
“Is everything OK, Lora?” asked her husband, enveloping her in his wings.
“Yes, Nom. A meaningless tantrum,” she replied, ecstatic.
Teaching children the wonders to be found in diversity.
Enabling her to fall in love with a Prox.